Wednesday, November 13, 2013

All that Fall: A Long Way Home

Photo by Carol Rosegg
Am I then invisible, Miss Fitt? Is this creteonne so becoming to me that I merge into the masonry? That is right, Miss Fitt, look closely and you will finally distinguish a once female shape.
Eileen Atkins can readily dismiss people, places, or things with just a cockeyed look. We are lucky enough to get to see her face in this staged adaptation of Samuel Beckett's 1957 radio play All that Fall. Radio alone would not have done her performance justice. Joining her in this production is esteemed actor Michael Gambon. But it is Atkins who steals the show scene after scene.

Mrs. Rooney (Atkins) is on her way into town. Old and creaky, she is walking as best she can to meet the train. She comes across her neighbors and other townspeople. With each encounter we get a taste of her acidic temperament and sharp wit.
Mr. Tyler: What sky! What light! Ah in spite of all of it it is a blessed thing to be alive in such weather, and out of hospital.
Mrs. Rooney: Alive?
Mr. Tyler: Well half alive shall we say?
Mrs. Rooney: Speak for yourself, Mr. Tyler. I am not half alive nor anything approaching it.
She has a complaint and an observation to make at every turn.  A lifetime of woes are carried on her shoulders and with each step she seems to be fighting for her existence as her body betrays her.  But her mind, flitting between the past and the present, remains sharp.  She meets her blind husband (Gambon) at the train station and they make their way back home.  Cantankerous on her own, together they make for a spiky pair.  The train was late. No one says why at the station but there's been something ominous in the air all along.

Photo by Carol Rosegg
With radio microphones hanging from the ceiling, amplified sound effects, and acted out performances, the production, directed by Trevor Nunn, is a hybrid of radio and stage work.  Scripts in hand but dressed in costumes, in some ways I wished they had fully embraced the old-fashioned radio style and shown the sound effects live on stage a la Gatz or The Select. We got Mrs Rooney climbing in and out of a car prop on stage--to great comic effect. But everyone else was left to mime their objects and actions--riding a bicycle, whipping a horse, and watching a train go by.  And the sound effects, because they seem intended for radio, came across on stage as heavy handed and not the usual atmospheric soundscape you'd expect in theater. 

Atkins mines Beckett's droll script for every caustic laugh.  When Mrs Rooney asks after the daughter of one of the locals and he gestures southward and says "they removed everything, you know, the of tricks," I may have barked out laughter.  Oh Samuel Beckett I'm totes adopting that euphemism to replace lady bits. 

It's an absolute pleasure to see Atkins and worth the ticket for her performance of Beckett's biting prose.  Because of the small house at 59E59, you can be very close to enjoy every sigh and smirk. I would not miss it. 

As for the rest of the cast, Gambon managed fine but instead of pathos he tended to play bigger than was necessary in such close quarters.  His bellowing may have been a case of the character doth protesting too much. But it did not help shepherd in the darker tone shift which largely arrives with his character three quarters of the way through the 75 minute play.  No matter, the journey is still a worthwhile endeavor.

I received a complimentary ticket to this production.

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